How I Fought the Law (and Won)

Crime Doesn't Pay, but Heeding Advice Does

It's the worst feeling in the world.

Seeing those flashing red lights in your rearview mirror conjures up a myriad of fantasies; none of them pleasurable.  From the moment you first see those lights comes one moment of dread after another.  First, the embarrassment of being pulled to the side of the road by the officer, feeling akin to being called to the principal's office in grade school, while other motorists speed by with looks of amazement...or worse.

But, then reality sets in.  What is my spouse going to say?  Or worse...what is my insurance company going to do to me?

When the initial shock of the ticket wears off, the financial despair sets in.  This ticket is going to be a major inconvenience in my life and cost me a ton of hard-earned money!  I'll have to pay fines; lose a day's work to go to court; and receive the awful raise in premium rates from my insurance company.  All because I was going a little fast.  Everyone speeds, don't they?

Well, there's a way to avoid all of this by following two simple rules you learned in kindergarten:  (1) when you don't know the answer, ask for help, and (2) if no one can help you, be nice.

That's right.  Take it from me, an ex-Deputy Prosecutor, there are ways to minimize the pain involved in receiving a traffic infraction if you follow these simple rules.  I will explain both rules further below.

1.  Ask for Help.

A civil infraction, such as a traffic ticket for speeding or disregarding an automatic signal, is a court case.  All court cases follow procedures, from the divorce to the murder to the personal injury, even though they don't share the same factual circumstances.

In other words, all cases have a beginning, a middle and an end.

And, odds are, unless you have a Juris Doctorate, or a history of being involved in the legal system, you won't understand this procedure.  SO HIRE A LAWYER !!!

Do not question this advice.  A lawyer is worth his weight in gold when defending a civil infraction.

After you receive your civil infraction ticket, the Clerk of the County in which you reside will docket the infraction into their computer system and set the matter for the first step in the process:  the initial hearing (sometimes called the "arraignment").

One immediate advantage to hiring legal counsel is that he/she will attend the initial hearing (or have it waived altogether), thereby saving you the expense of missing an entire day's work.  After your attorney pleads "not guilty" on your behalf, the case will proceed to the middle, commonly referred to as the "plea bargain" stage.  (It is worth noting at this point that the common mythology surrounding pleas of "not guilty" must be addressed:  the State and Deputy Prosecutors will not get angry or mad that you pleaded "not guilty", it is expected and seen generally, as a smart move).

It is the middle stage where your attorney earns his keep.  A good, experienced defense attorney will convince the State through its Deputies that taking the case to the third and final stage, trial, is not worth the time and effort of anyone involved.  In fact, if every civil traffic infraction was taken to the final stage the entire criminal justice system would collapse upon itself by the sheer volume of the infractions involved and the time it would take to schedule and hear each single matter.

Consequently, a good Deputy Prosecutor will factor the impossibility of concluding every case on his docket multiplied by the percentage risk of losing each case in trial and offer a reasonable plea agreement to your lawyer.

Oftentimes, this plea agreement will see a substantial reduction in fines owed by you and a reduced pointable offense upon your driving record to report to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.  A very good lawyer can sometimes achieve a plea agreement that calls for no points or a deferral period (in which the ticket will not be reported to the BMV for a set period of time and if the offender does not receive any further tickets in that time period, the case will be dismissed).

The advantage to the plea bargain is two-fold:  firstly, you can avoid a court appearance in most circumstances and secondly, a non-pointable offense will prevent your insurance company from becoming aware of your transgression, thereby, not raising your rates.

There is nothing nefarious about hiring a lawyer.  In fact, it is encouraged.  Remember, the Deputy Prosecutors and the Judge himself/herself, are lawyers, too.  And many will be private lawyers someday in the near future, so they like the idea of a traffic offender who "plays by the rules" by hiring an attorney.

2.  If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, Be Nice!

In my jurisdiction, many traffic offenders couldn't afford the rates of hiring an attorney to defend a traffic ticket or they believed it wasn't worth the retainer fee (wrong!  see above).

In those cases, the Deputy Prosecutor, like myself, was allowed time to speak with the alleged offender in private before the trial.  Many times, in order to speed up the docket, or just because I was a human with some measure of pity, I would reduce fines/points if I believed the person's story seated across from me and if he/she was nice.

I'm not talking about the schmaltzy excuses, I mean a good, genuine, honest person who admitted fault but asked for a break.

In conclusion, receiving a traffic infraction need not ruin your life.  In fact, in most circumstances you can avoid heavy punishment by following two pieces of advice (from a former Deputy Prosecutor who handled literally thousands of civil infractions):  if you don't know what to do, ask for help and, if you can't find (or afford) the help, then by all means, be nice.

If you follow those two pieces of advice, the damage caused by this embarrassing event will be minimized greatly.